How To Maximise the Benefit of The Ramadan Fast

The Gate of Ar-RayyânMoon in Cloauds

In the name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful.

***********

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said,

There is a gate in Paradise called Ar-Rayyân, through which only those who observe fasting will enter on the Day of Resurrection; and none except them will enter through it. It will be called out,

“Where are those who used to observe fasting?”

So they will stand up and proceed towards it. When the last of them will have entered, the gate will be closed. And no-one will enter through that gate after that.

[Sahîh Muslim]

***********

Praise be to Allah! We approach the month of Ramaðân yet again. As the righteous predecessors and the companions of the Prophet ﷺ did, let us greet it with joy and pray: ‘O Allah! Let us live to fast it!‘ Not only would they supplicate for themselves, but they would greet each other and congratulate each other on the approach of the fast, and supplicate for their neighbour what they supplicated for themselves. Following their tradition, I ask Allah to grant our readers peace, and I pray that He lets you live to begin the fast and live to complete it. And may Allah accept your fast and grant you Jannah even should you die before its completion.

For many of us, Ramaðân is the month in which we increase the time we spend with our relatives. We visit even distant cousins to break the fast with them, and they visit us for the same purpose. It’s our chance to socialise and remember and have fun with them, and enjoy the night. And even when we are not occupied with visitors, we can stay up and enjoy each others company, secure in the knowledge that we have done our duty by fasting the day.

Ramaðân is also a time when we feel more generous. All those things one’s wife or husband needed during the year, and you held back; all those things one’s children wanted, and you held back; all the things the family needed and you held back; for all of these things one held back on, your hand opens during Ramaðân. Often, that means shopping sprees, during which one can enjoy window shopping and fast food snacks en famile.

Ramaðân is also the time when we tend to make those special, delicious dishes to indulge in when sunset comes. When we have visitors, we present the best of what we have cooked or bought so the guests are satisfied and happy. All this in accordance with the ayah of the Qur’an which says:

“Permitted to you, on the nights of the fast, is the approach to your wives. They are your garments and you are their garments. Allah knows what you would secretly do among yourselves; but He turned to you and forgave you; so now associate with them, and seek what Allah Has ordained for you, and eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast till the night appears; but do not associate with your wives while you are in retreat in the mosques. Those are limits set by Allah.” [1]

How Kind and Generous Allah is!

However, are we really fulfilling what Allah intends for us by these customs? Does not the entertainment of guests, the preoccupation with special dishes, eating and drinking while we are permitted, and expending on the material needs generated by such, interfere with other activities which would reward us more, spiritually? Does not Allah precede the ayah above with an exhortation to use the time of Ramaðân fruitfully in prayer? And follow it with a clear command to learn self-restraint? He says:

“Complete the prescribed period, and glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance you shall be grateful.When My servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on Me; let them also, with a will, listen to My call, and believe in Me, that they may walk in the right way.” [2]

and,

“Do not approach the limits (set by Allah). Thus does Allah make clear His Signs to men; that they may learn self-restraint.” [3]

So how can we make Ramaðân as fulfilling in our religion as it is fulfilling the need of family togetherness?

The first step is to practice self-restraint.

That is, primarily, to avoid indulging in the material. Allah says in the Qur’ân:

Strain not your eyes in longing for the splendour of the life of this world; the things We have given to various groups of them that we may test them thereby. But the provision of your Lord is better and more lasting. And enjoin the salah (formal prayer) on your family, and be patient in offering them. We ask not of you a provision; We provide for you. And the good end is for those who have awe (of Allah).”[4]

What better time than Ramaðân to turn your face away from that which glitters and causes envy not only in your heart, but in the hearts of the guests you invite to your house. Eat simple fare without wasting anything, and just sufficient for your needs. Avoid the distractions of material toys and concentrate, instead, on beneficial play, like competition in Islamic knowledge or telling and acting out Islamic stories with your children. If you go out, make it to the local Mosque or Islamic Centre, or to open natural areas where you can contemplate Allah’s work, rather than man’s work, and enjoy vigorous exercise without seeking out a gym. Avoid spending money on material indulgences; spend it for the sake of Allah instead.

Secondly, one should avoid useless or malicious talk, or losing one’s temper with other people.

The Prophet ﷺ said:

“When any one of you observes the fast on a day, he should neither indulge in obscene language nor should he raise his voice,” [5]

and:

“If one does not eschew lies and false conduct, Allah has no need that he should abstain from his food and drink. [6]

Surely we want to avoid that which will invalidate the effort one makes in fasting. So how should we occupy our time?

Instead of occupying one’s tongue remembering what you and your relatives did together in time gone by, or discussing the family activities while you have been apart, why not occupy it with remembering Allah. Instead of getting angry or quarrelling over the temporal, why not fill your time seeking reconciliation, being generous in forgiving others and giving, in charity. It is not that there is anything wrong in catching up on family news. However, getting into conflicts over worldly affairs, or idly talking and joking about mundane matters, brings little benefit in the hereafter. Rather, sharing beneficial knowledge with them and performing good deeds together is better for you.

Thirdly, we should seek to get close to Allah.

Allah says:

O you who believe! Fasting has been decreed for you as it was decreed on those before you, that you may become righteous.” [7]

And

Those who fulfil the covenant of Allah and do not break it. And those who join what Allah ordered to be joined, and fear their Lord and dread the reckoning of (their) evil. And those who are patient, seeking the countenance of their Lord, and establish the prayer and expend what we have provided for them secretly and in private, preventing evil with good; those are whose end is the good home: The gardens of Aden. They will enter, and with them, whosoever were righteous among their fathers, their spouses, and their offspring. And the angels will welcome them from every gate saying, ‘Peace be upon you for what you patiently endured. And excellent is your final home’.” [8]

Fulfilling the covenant of fasting is to comply with all its stipulations, and then not invalidate it:

  • By leaving off other obligations, such as: offering the five prayers on time.
  • By inappropriate behaviour, such as: being vain [9], idle [10], self indulgent [11], greedy [12], stingy [13], untruthful [14], bad-mannered [15], jestful [16], gossipy [17], short-tempered [18] or quarrelsome [19].

Furthermore, you can increase both your nearness to Allah and His reward in many ways:

  • By keeping the bonds of kinship secure and active.
  • By purifying yourselves with Wudu’ (ablution), Salah (the five daily prayers) and Zakât al-Fitr (The poor due in kind for the ‘Eid feast of the indigent).
  • By avoiding sins, by turning to Allah in supplication and with extra, voluntary salâh. 
  • By giving generously in charity, and by remembering Allah yourself and to those around you.

It seems a tall order, but the reward is well worth the effort.

The Spiritual Value Ramaðân.

The Prophet ﷺ said:

“The reward of every deed of a person is multiplied from 10 to 700 times. Allah says, ‘The reward of fasting is different from the rewards of other good deeds: Fasting is for Me, and I Alone will give its reward. The person who fasts abstains from food and drink (and sexual pleasuresonly for my sake.’ The fasting person has two joyous occasions: one at the time of breaking his fast, the other when he meets his Lord. [20]

In the above hadîth qudsi, we are assured of a reward that only Allah knows. We do not know what Allah will reward us with, but we can hope for a something really good if we are sincere in offering our fast to Allah Alone. What is more, Allah makes it easy for us to be sincere by protecting us from the nagging devils that tempt us to show off. The prophet ﷺ said:

“When Ramaðân begins, the gates of Paradise are opened, the gates of Hell are closed, and the devils are chained up.” [21]

Some of that vast reward we already know. For we are told by the Prophet ﷺ in the two Sahihs that:

“Every day one observes fast for the sake of Allah Alone, He will draw (our) faces away from the Hell-fire a distance that can only be covered in seventy years.” [22]

Moreover, “if one observes the fast of Ramaðân completely with pure faith in the reward Allah will give you, your past sins will be forgiven” [23] by Ar-Rahmân.

Sincerity and faith are prerequisites for these wonderful spiritual rewards, so one should build up those qualities by concentrating and trying to do more worship while we have Allah’s ear and attention. This opportunity is abundantly available for all of us in Ramaðân.

What are these voluntary acts that draw us closer to Allah?

Well, studying and reflecting on the Qur’an is a start, and getting your family to do so with you. If you can, why not go yourself and sit in circles of knowledge and give the opportunity for your family to do so too. Encourage your family to make Dhikr (remember Allah) while they go about their normal pursuits, and do so yourself.

You can also increase your voluntary prayer, especially by never missing the nawâfil before and after each of the compulsory prayers. Try not to miss the Duha prayer either, which can be done anytime between approximately 15 minutes after sunrise and the same amount of time before noon, or the Witr prayer, which is a single rakâh before you sleep at night or just before eating Suhûr. The Prophet ﷺ  often advised his companions to “Offer two rakahs of ad-Duha in the forenoon and al-Witr before going to bed.” [24]

Qiyâm, or the night prayer, is one of the characteristics of Ramaðân, so if you can attend Tarawîyh prayer in the mosque, do so. The Prophet ﷺ  said:

Whomsoever performs the night prayer throughout Ramaðân with sincere faith, hoping for a reward from Allah; all his past sins will be forgiven.” [25]

Furthermore, if he “prays at night with his Imam till the latter leaves, he will be rewarded as if he had prayed the whole night.” [26] He, himself, never prayed more than eleven rakâhs for Qiyâm while at home, including the Witr, so you can see what a wonderful benefit that latter ruling is to you.

If you can’t make the Tarawîyh prayer, then you can make Tahâjud at home. The Prophet ﷺ  said:

“In the last third of the night Allah descends to the lowermost heaven and says,‘Who is calling Me so that I may answer? Who is asking Me that I may grant? Who is seeking my forgiveness that I may forgive?’” [27]

Supplicating and invoking Allah as much as you can also brings great spiritual benefits, especially at the times you are most likely to be heard and answered. In another hadith, the Prophet ﷺ  said:

“Every night there is a special space of time during which whatever a Muslim asks Allah for any good relating to this life or the hereafter, it will be granted to him.” [28]

He said what amounts to the same for thing about the daytime on Friday with the qualification that the du’a be made while performing sålâh[29]

Another especially propitious time for making du’a is between the aðân and iqâma of the congregational prayer. That is, five times a day, if you can make it to the mosque. Also twice during your sålâh one has the opportunity to have one’s prayers answered; whilst in prostration [30] and between saying at-Tahiyat and taslîym at the end of the prayer.[31] The prophet ﷺ  also assured us that our supplications will not be rejected under certain conditions, these being while it is raining, [32] while travelling or fasting, and if made by a parent for his child. [33] So combining any of these will make the acceptance of your supplications even more certain.

Laylat ul Qadr

In the last third of Ramaðân there falls a night that has enormous merit for your soul if you catch it. It is the night the Qur’an was brought down from the highest heavens to mankind. Of this night, Allah says:

“Verily We have sent it down on the Night of Decree. And what will make you know what the Night of Decree is? The Night of Decree is better than 1000 months.” [34]

We were told that this night falls on the odd nights of the last ten days. The first of these nights starts as we break the fast of the 20th day, and the last of these nights when we break the fast of the 28th day, because the night preceding the day belongs to it in the Islamic calendar. Which of the nights it is, exactly, we do not know; that makes these nights a kind of test. Only those who sincerely seek it every night will actually reap the benefit of its virtue. Like praying Qiyâm every night sincerely, whoever catches this single night in prayer, “with firm belief and expecting its reward, his previous sins are all forgiven.” [35]

How can you most easily perform all of these voluntary acts that draw us closer to Allah? Well, the Prophet used to practice I’tikâf, which is confining oneself in seclusion in a mosque, leaving behind every worldly affair, for the purpose of worshipping Allah alone, during the last 10 days of the Fast. If you are able to do this, it means you can concentrate on pleasing Allah exclusively. You can occupy your time with all these various activities of worship already mentioned, and really get close to Allah. The period needn’t be a full 10 days. It can be less, or more. It’s strictly a voluntary act of worship, so if it’s impossible for you, don’t worry. The Prophet ﷺ said:

“Do good deeds that are within your capacity.” [36]

He also said:

“The religion of Islam is easy, and whoever overburdens himself, it will overpower him. So follow the middle course; if you can’t do this, do something as near as you can to it, and receive the glad tidings that you will be rewarded…” [37]

Other Benefits.

Giving Charity during Ramaðân brings reward not only from Allah, but helps you increase your love of your brothers in Islam and their love for you. Furthermore, every charity you give during this blessed month is elevated in value, because the Prophet ﷺ  said,

“The best charity is that which is given in Ramaðân.” [38]

The best of the best is to give food to the hungry, for “if a believer feeds a hungry believer, Allah will feed him on the fruit of Paradise; and if he gives water to a thirsty believer,  Allah will give him sealed nectar.” [39]

And the best time to give food is when you break the fast, because someone who “provides breakfast to a fasting person, his reward will be equivalent to that person’s fast without decreasing the reward of the latter.” [40]

Imagine if one were able to give breakfast to ten people in one evening. That is like you fasted eleven days that day! And should one remember to say and mean, as you feed the indigent, the orphan or the prisoner,

“‘We feed you for the sake of Allah alone. No reward do we desire from you, nor thanks. We fear only the Day of Wrath from the side of our Lord.’

then

Allah will deliver them from the evil of that Day, and will shed over them a light of beauty and blissful joy.” [41]

Ramaðân helps us acquire patience, a virtue Allah has ordered for us over seventy times in the Qur’an, and a strong will. Whoever gives up bodily needs and seeks to satisfy the spiritual needs cannot help but learn restraint and develop the will and patience to practice it.

It also helps in increasing Ihsân. That is, increasing your Allah-consciousness. Just the act of concentrating on acquiring all the benefit you can from Allah makes you more aware of the things you should be doing and the mistakes you are making, and focusing on eradicating them brings you closer to Allah by your fear of His punishment and hope for His reward. Because of this, it brings about beneficial repentance. Whatever wrong you did, whatever failing you recognize from the previous year, you seek to eradicate and do better.

This carries forward into the following year due to the way Ramaðân trains you to do good by others and by yourself. It helps you to develop discipline in your worship as you try to make your acts of worship regular and constant. And it gives you a chance to train your children, too, in an ongoing religious context.

It helps you physically in that it purges your body (as long as you don’t spoil it by over-indulging at night) of impurities and obesity, as well as providing other biological benefits. It also has a psychophysiological [42] effect, somehow tuning your mind and soul to the spiritual ambience rather than the temporal.

Finally, it helps you identify with the whole of the Ummah, both the local and worldwide Muslim community, so that you feel its essential unity because of the fact that we all fast together, we break the fast together, we all worship Allah together, and we pray Sålât ul-‘Eid together. So if some call for you to criticize how one section of the Muslims or another section times the start and finish of Ramaðân, ignore them. They are working in the opposite direction, striving to disunite the Ummah.

The last act of Ramaðân is to pay the obligatory Zakât al-Fitr.

The reward Allah promises for sincere Charity is an obligation on Him should you manage to give it to the right category of person. These are stipulated by Allah, Who says,

AsSadaqat is only for the indigent beggar, the needy who won’t beg, and (the salaries of) the tax collectors; and the one whose heart is inclined (to Islam) so as to attract him; and the freeing of captives; and those in debt; and (the one fighting) Allah’s cause; and the wayfarer (who is stranded): A duty imposed by Allah, All-Knowing, All-Wise.” [43]

Zakat al-Fitr is the Obligatory Breakfast Donation of approximately 3 Kg of the staple agricultural produce that serves as the staple food of that country, usually grain, which must be donated before the ‘Eid prayer. Dates are also a valid staple, and potatoes may well be valid where they serve that function.  Among other things, Zakât al-Fitrserves “as a redemption for the fasting person from unnecessary foul speech” [44] during Ramaðân. It is also ordered “so the poor will have food” [45] to share the feasting of the ‘Eid that marks the end of Ramaðân.

May Allah help you help yourself and make this Ramaðân one which Allah accepts from you, erasing all past sins and providing you with one of the places reserved for those who will enter at the gate of Ar-Rayyân.

Ramaðân Mubârak!

References

[1] Qur’ân 2:187

[2] Qur’ân 2:185-6

[3] Qur’ân 2:187

[4] Qur’ân 20:131-132

[5] Sahîh Muslim

[6] Sahîh Al-Bukhâriy

[7] Qur’ân 2:183

[8] Qur’ân 13:20-24

[9] Being prideful without cause; having a good opinion about oneself without there being any substance to back it up

[10] Being lazy; not doing anything; occupying oneself with empty, frivolous, worthless, useless activity.

[11] Gratifying one’s own desires without restraint or control

[12] Wanting more (food, drink, money, etc.) than you need

[13] (Parsimonious) Being unwilling to give (possessions, money) to, or spend (your money, time, effort) on, others.

[14] Lying

[15] (Churlish) Being rude and ill-mannered

[16] Making fun of people, or things, to elicit laughter; telling, or playing jokes

[17] Talking about other people behind their backs; rumour mongering; passing time with idle talk

[18] (Irascible) Being easily irritated and provoked to anger; hot tempered.

[19] Being inclined to argue and dispute with people, and break off friendly relations with them due to that.

[20] Sahîh Muslim (& Bukhâriy)

[21] Sahîh Muslim & Sahîh Bukhâriy

[22] ibid.

[23] ibid.

[24] Riyaδ as-Sålihîyn

[25] Sahîh Bukhâriy

[26] Ahl as-Sûnan

[27] Sahîh Muslim & Sahîh Bukhâriy

[28] Sahîh Muslim

[29] Sahîh Al-Bukhâriy

[30] Sahîh Muslim

[31] At-Tirmiðîy

[32] Abu Dawûd

[33] Al-Bayhaqiy

[34] Qur’ân 97:1-3

[35] Sahîh Muslim & Sahîh Bukhâriy

[36] Sahîh Al-Bukhâriy

[37] ibid.

[38] At-Tirmiðîy

[39] ibid.

[40] Nissa’i

[41] Qur’ân 76:8-11

[42] Or psychosomatic (Relating to or concerned with the influence of the mind on the body, and the body on the mind) = psychophysiological: combining or involving mental and bodily processes, from psychophysiology: The branch of physiology dealing with the relationship between physiological processes and thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

[43] Qur’ân 9:60

[44] Abu Dawûd

[45] ibid.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s